Tag Archives: oats

Irish Leek and Oatmeal Soup

I have done separate posts in the past on leeks and on oats, each one with an attendant recipe from Scotland. Leeks and oats are both associated in general with Celtic people. The Irish, also being Celtic, are also fans of these ingredients. So the Irish leek and oatmeal soup given below is a very Celtic thing. This is an amazingly delicious soup—the milk and oatmeal combine to make it really thick and creamy, and leeks make it wonderfully flavorful. Enjoy.

Brotchán Foltchep

(Irish Leek and Oatmeal Soup)

3–6 leeks (depending on size; see Notes)

2 Tbs. butter

1/4 cup oatmeal (uncooked)

3 cups beef stock or broth

2 cups milk

pinch of ground mace

salt and pepper to taste

chopped parsley (optional)

Clean the leeks thoroughly (see notes). Slice the leeks in 1/2-inch slices (just the white and pale green section—as you move up the leek, you can remove outer layers, if they are dark and tough—but you’ll just be using the straight part of the leek, not the fanned-out top part).

Melt the butter in a large pot, add the leeks, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until leeks are soft but not brown. Sprinkle the oatmeal over the leeks and stir them together. Then add the stock and milk. Add a good pinch of ground mace, plus salt and pepper to taste. (If you use salted broth, you may not need much salt.) Simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with parsley, if you wish. Serves. 4.

Notes: Leeks vary in size, even in the same store-packed bunch, so the number of leeks needed will vary. You need about 3 cups of sliced leek for this recipe (a little over is fine, but you don’t want much less). One really big leek, 1-1/2 inches or more in diameter, will come close to giving you one full cup of sliced leek. If leeks are smaller—say 1 inch in diameter or so—you’ll get about 2/3 cup or less. So buy accordingly.

Because of the way leeks are planted, they usually accumulate sand among the layers. Cut off the top of the leek (where it fans out). This dark-green part can be reserved if you’re making stock, but should be discarded if all you’re making is this recipe. Cut off the roots, then split the leek and rinse, separating layers slightly to make sure you get all the dirt.

I generally use 2-percent milk in this and get excellent results, but whole milk would be creamier—and more traditional.

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Scottish Oatcakes

I first tried Scottish oatcakes while traveling in Scotland. A friend and I were driving across country (for those of you who have read my book, Waltzing Australia, I was traveling with Jo, who I met in Western Australia a few years earlier), and we had stopped at a dairy that specializes in goat-milk products. The goat cheese was served with oatcakes, and I instantly became addicted (must be in my blood). Oatcakes have a wonderful, nutty, wholesome taste. They go fabulously well with cheese, but they are also great with a bit of honey. Actually, oatcakes excel in supporting roles. They also make good breakfast substitutes—oatmeal on the go.

As is true of most of the world’s simple flatbreads, oatcakes represent a tradition that stretches back millennia. These would be as easily prepared at a primitive fireplace, simply slapped on heated rocks, as they are in today’s kitchens.

Oatcakes are generally rolled into 6-inch to 8-inch circles and then cut into fourths. The Scottish name for the round oatcake is bannock, while the sections into which the bannock is divided are farls. (Farl comes from the term fardel, which means “a fourth part,” though now the term farl refers only to quarters of oatcakes or shortbread.) They would originally have been made on a hot griddle over an open fire, but they translate well to an indoor griddle or heavy frying pan, and can also be baked in the oven (my preferred method, because they don’t have to be tended). They are remarkably easy to make and very wholesome. Enjoy. Continue reading

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Feeling Your Oats

Young Oats

Young Oats

Sowing your wild rice. Feeling your millet. Hmmm. Things are just not the same without oats, are they? Actually, in recent generations, oats have enjoyed a better reputation than they have occasionally had in the past. Now that it has been discovered that oats are good for you, with abundant soluble and insoluble fiber, they are practically revered. It was not always so.

For many centuries, oats were deemed fit only for animals and barbarians. While Rome was still an empire, Pliny wrote contemptuously of oats, which were favored by the Germanic tribes. It was believed that such rough food must produce a rough character (oats are rough, barbarians are rough, there must be a connection). Paracelsus wrote that oatcakes, as well as cheese and milk, would contribute to having a disposition that lacked subtlety—i.e., you’re not quite civilized if you consume these things. In his great Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Samuel Johnson took a swipe at England’s northern neighbors, describing oats as “a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” So the bias against the grain seems to have continued to be based in contempt for people that were somewhat less refined. Continue reading

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